Home to skiers
A childhood dream comes true while covering the third and final Test match between Pakistan and Australia at Bellerive Oval in Hobart earlier this year
By Khalid Hussain
As a kid, one of my favourite pastimes was to play with a miniature globe I got from my father on my eighth birthday. The first day I got it I closed my eyes, spun what was already my most prized possession and placed my index finger on it. I made a promise to myself -- that I would definitely go to the place picked by my finger. As luck would have it, my finger picked this tiny speck-like island below Australia -- Tasmania.
Not many people around me, not even my elders, knew much about the place.
Years passed. As a sports journalist I travelled to places far and away to cover different events -- like cricket series, squash event, hockey tournament and Olympics. In 2000, I went to Australia to cover the Sydney Games and took another trip Down Under three years later for a hockey double-header in Sydney and Perth. On both occasions, the thought of fulfilling the promise I'd made to myself long ago crossed my mind. But I couldn't make a trip to Tasmania -- an island about 75-minute flight away from Sydney.
Early this year, I finally got the opportunity I had been waiting for: as Pakistan played third and final Test against Australia at Bellerive Oval in Hobart -- the sleepy capital of Tasmania.
Alas, on a warm Sydney afternoon I took an early evening flight to Hobart… and to my absolute delight I was breathing the fresh Tasmanian air before dusk. It was exhilarating.
It was a busy time of the year in Hobart. Sporting activities were aplenty: the forthcoming test match and an international golfing. Also participants of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race that was held a few days back were still vacationing in the city. No doubt then finding a decent hotel room became a huge task. When I was planning to get a room booked in Hobart, a local friend in Sydney said, "Who goes to Hobart, it's like a village. You can just walk in any hotel there and get a room, dirt cheap any time of the year".
It was only after crisscrossing Hobart with a friendly cabbie named David and begging a soft-hearted hotel manager for a room that I finally found a decent one at a price higher than most cities in Australia. If it was a village, it was an expensive village, I thought.
It was pretty chilly in Hobart considering it was mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of my days were spent covering the Test match which Pakistan lost after young Mohammad Aamer dropped Australian captain Ricky Ponting. Playing on his home turf, Ponting scored a match-winning double century to lead Aussies to yet another whitewash against Pakistanis.
Dejected with Pakistan team's performance, I switched my focus on the things to do in Hobart. It turned out to be a difficult city for a night bird as almost everything closes by 9pm. I ate at an Indian restaurant on our first night and didn't go there again. It was quite ordinary with fish curry tasting the same as daal makhni.
The discovery of The Mures, easily the most crowded eating place in Hobart, was a blessing. The Blue Eye Trevalla, both grilled and fried, was easily one of the best fish I've ever had. Basically, it was a great place to hang out with the Pakistani players who were staying in a hotel next door.
"The seafood here is awesome," Umar Gul, the Pakistan fast bowler told me. Gul had found the lobster better in Hobart than the AU$700 dish he had with Imran Farhat at a chic Sydney restaurant a week ago.
I'm into a lot of experimentation as far as food is concerned. But after discovering The Mures I decided there was no need to go adventuring. I'm sure most of our players did the same. It was either Mures or Nandos -- one of the few places in Hobart offering halal food. And I would prefer fish over chicken, anytime.
I took time out whenever I could to take a walk in the city that is one of the oldest in Australia. There was always this eerie feeling as I walked around the city that was established by the convicts, who it is alleged, killed all the native aborigines in Tasmania.
In my various walks down the city centre, I gathered some facts and figures about Tasmanian history. I learnt that on his voyage of 1642 Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to sight Tasmania, hence the name. The island was later visited by several other captains including the famous Captain Cook who landed on Bruny Island, and the French explorer La Perouse at Great Oyster Bay.
Hobert is situated on the Australian island's south-east on estuary of the Derwent River. The skyline is dominated by Mount Wellington, which by our high standards when it comes to mountains, is a little more than a hill. But what a hill! At 1,271 metres, the mountain has its own ecosystems. It is rich in biodiversity and plays a large part in determining the local weather. A bus ride to the top of the mountain is highly recommended.
Another great place for nature lovers is the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, located at a short distance from central Hobart. It is the second oldest botanical gardens in Australia.
Then there is the stunning Tasman Bridge, which I used to cross twice daily to go to Bellerive Oval. David told us about the Tasman bridge disaster that occurred on January 5, 1975 when a bulk ore carrier collided with several pylons of the bridge causing a large section of the bridge to collapse on a ship sailing in the river below. Twelve people were killed in the tragedy, including five occupants of four cars which fell in the river.
Hobart's night life is dull compared to that of Sydney, Melbourne and even far off Perth. It revolves around Salamanca Place, the waterfront area and Elizabeth Street in North Hobart. Personally, I felt great spending a couple of quiet evenings at the waterfront with seagulls flying all over the place.
After a week's stay in Hobart, we flew back to Sydney in the evening. The brief journey would perhaps be etched on my mind forever. As we passed over the green island, basking in the January sun, everything above it was bathed in hues of gold. I had finally fulfilled a childhood promise.
Naltar, home of international skier Mohammad Abbas, has the potential to become a nursery for the international winter games
By Moeed ur Rehman
Naltar; home of skiing, is the loveliest place for a full-day outing from Gilgit. A former hill station of the British army, it is also known for carved wooden coffins which were introduced by the Gujjars of the area who brought this tradition from Swat and Kohistan of Hazara division. Such coffins can also be seen in Tangier Valley of Northern Areas. The valley is also known for its wildlife and magnificent mountain scenery.
Naltar is an enchanting green valley with peaceful and innocent people. It is located in an area of alpine meadows and pine forests 10,000 feet above the sea level and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is only two hours drive from Gilgit. It is well-connected by road with Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is also connected by air with Islamabad (weather dependent) and by road with Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Skardu and Chitral. PIA is operating two flights to Gilgit from Islamabad daily.
The metalled road along the Hunza River till village Nomal, another beautiful valley of Baltistan known for delicious French cherries, climbs steeply along with Hunza River through a rocky gorge to emerge on the fertile, high-altitude pastures. One has to turn left from Nomal to reach Naltar. The climate and the road both change soon after you leave Nomal. The road from Nomal to Naltar is not in a good condition. It is broken at various points and is very difficult to drive on the road.
Although public transport is available from Gilgit to Naltar, which operates daily and charges Rs80 per passenger, it is not very comfortable. It is advisable to get a 4x4 jeep from Gilgit, which will cost about Rs2000 - 4000 for a day trip.
Naltar is rightly called the Home of Skiing. A winter trip to the area revealed that there is a base camp of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at Naltar. Ski Competitions are held at Naltar regularly under the supervision of PAF and Pakistan Skiing Federation has installed two lifts at the skiing sites and is also planning to install another one there.
Interestingly, almost every villager starts learning skiing from childhood. I have seen many young children who know the art of skiing. "I started skiing when I was only 7 years old. We use to go to school after making skiing equipment from wood," says Ghulam Murtaza, the sitting captain of Civil Aviation Authority skiing team who won the prestigious Shah Khan Skiing Cup 2010 this winter. He further said that if the government extended support to Naltar it could become a nursery for the International Winter Games. "If the government allows and supports us we will make a perfect under-14 boys skiing team."
During the visit I saw another slope, which according to experts can be developed for international skiing competitions. "It is no less than Japan, Canada or Italian skiing slopes. It can be a world class slope if all other allied facilities are extended," says Rehmat Ali, gold medallist in the 2010 national skiing championship.
International skier, Mohmmad Abbas, hails from this valley. He became the first ever-Pakistani skier to participate in the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. He is of the view that after the installation of the new chairlift the activities and performance of the players shall increase. "We need a good school, college, hospital, and metalled road in the vicinity," Abbas said. Presently, there are two schools but they are not up to the standard. Our literacy rate is very low; we face unprecedented difficulties in treating our patients. We can produce dozens of Abbas from this valley who can raise the national flag very high at the international level provided the government supports."
Abbas and his co-villagers' views carry weight. This neglected heaven on earth and home of skiing can produce a number of national and international players but it needs attention of the government. The sports lovers are also of the view that at least one government department or authority should take over the responsibility of such activities besides PAF. The CAA has a full-fledged team that has been participating in all winter games every year and winning medals. They should be given responsibility to train under-14 boys and form professional skiing teams so that a nursery of such players could be prepared for the forthcoming winter games.
Besides this, the tourism authority should take care of the area and initiate various attractive programmes so that the already ruined tourism could be encouraged. The area has immense potential to attract tourists.
The Gujjars, Syeds and other small castes are living in the valley. Most of them are agriculturists. However, some of them have found jobs as keepers, cooks and other low-paid employments in PAF and other government departments. The few lucky ones have got jobs in these departments as skiing players.
The picturesque valley is the perfect base for walks through the forest or up to Naltar Lake for fishing. The village is also the starting point for more energetic treks across 13,000 feet. The entire valley receives heavy snow from December to March. The weather becomes pleasant in May.
Also known as craftsmen who make carved wooden coffins, there are three villages in Naltar where one finds graveyards with wooden coffins. In local parlance, the wooden coffin is called Jhangla. The oldest graveyard of the Gujjars is located in Dalan where there are many carved wooden coffins.
"We install these Jhangla to protect the graves from animals since wood is not very costly. Here we decorate the graveyard with Jhangla," says Murtaza, a local villager. Such wooden coffins are found in the valleys of Kohistan, Darel, Tangir and Chilas as well. There are 20 wooden coffins in the graveyard of Dalan. All the graves belong to Gujjars.
However, most of the graves are either de-shaped or damaged badly. Nevertheless, some of the coffins are still in good condition with variety of floral designs, mostly lotus and sunflower. There are two types of graves, simple and decorated. The simple wooden coffins belong to ordinary Gujjars whereas the decorated grave railings belong to notables and wealthy dignitaries of the tribe.